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An Herbal Oxymoron - Anti-inflammatory - Ottawa Holistic Wellness

An Herbal Oxymoron – Anti-inflammatory

Most people know movement is an important part of any health regime. Unfortunately, many people stop moving when it becomes painful. Most pain intensified by movement occurs after an injury and ongoing when inflammation. So let’s explore a few ways herbal medicine can resolve inflammation by looking at herbal medicine helped heal a broken ankle.

If you hang out with herbalist long enough, you will hear someone say, if you have broken leg go to emergency, not the herbalist. Yet, last month I helped someone heal up a broken ankle after she went to emergency, and they could not do anything for her.

There were several concerns with the ankle.

  1. Swelling and bruising that was not going away
  2. Pain
  3. A small bone in the ankle was not healing

The first herb in the formula

Comfrey: A Demulcent Containing Allantion

Comfrey contains a phytochemical called allantion. Allantoin enhances the healing of wounds, tears and breaks in connective tissue. I have used it to help heal tendons, ligaments, bones and skin tears.

During inflammation’s final phase the body makes what is called granulation tissue. Granulation tissue is what knits the wound back together. Allantoin increases the body’s ability to make this unique healing tissue, the final resolution of inflammation.

Please note the safest way to take comfrey.

If you are taking comfrey internally, make a tea with leaves.

If you are applying it topically, use an infused oil of the root.

The second herb in the formula

St John’s Wort – A Nervine with Anti-oxidants and Liver and Nerve Support

St John’s Wort is a complicated herb. What one of the reason inflammation can linger is the debris (toxins) created by the wound, and the healing is not removed promptly. One reason is, the liver is overwhelmed by work! St John’s Wort helps flush toxins from the liver. An efficient liver is essential for good health and healing.

St John’s Wort also contains high levels of flavonoids. Let’s explore quercetin, a flavonoid that is found in St John’s Wort. Quercetin is an anti-oxidant. The inflammatory process creates considerable debris made up bits of dead cells formed during the healing of the wound. Some of this debris are loose oxygen molecules. Oxygen is a very combustible molecule. Think of the flame in a circle on an oxygen tank. In our body, loose oxygen molecules are also explosive. They cause small explosions that damage cell membranes resulting in more inflammation. Taking herbs, like St John’s Wort limits the damage loose oxygen molecules can create and shortens the period of pain and inflammation.

Part of the pain experienced during inflammation is caused by damage to the tips of nerves. St John’s Wort is famous for healing damaged nerve tissue. In this way, the pain is resolved not by shutting down the inflammatory process but by healing the damage that causes it in the first place.

The third herb in the formula

Yarrow – The Healer’s Herb

If a wound, break of inflammation will not heal, think of yarrow. Remember part of the inflammatory process is cleaning up the debris from the injury. Yarrow excels at this. I have seen yarrow clean up 10-year-old bruising. “It just never healed properly,” she said and was amazed at what taking yarrow for three weeks did. Yarrow brings completion to the inflammatory process.

Also like St John’s Wort, yarrow is high in flavonoids and limits the inflammatory activity of free radicles.

The fourth herb in the formula

Poplar – For the Pain

There are many different analgesic herbs. Poplar like so many other herbs, willow, birch, meadowsweet, is high in salicin. It was from salicin that the first NSAID drug aspirin was made. But in that case, salicin was turned into salicylic acid and then into the over the counter painkiller. In a plant, salicin does not become salicylic acid, the analgesic, until it is absorbed through the gut and into the bloodstream. Once in the blood, it becomes salicylic acid. Interestingly, while moderating the experience of pain at the site of inflammation, it does not like NSAID stop the completion of the inflammation process nor carry the harmful side effects. It is however very bitter medicine, so prepare your palate.   

Final Words

These for plants relieved the swelling and bruising, eased the pain and healed up the bone. They supported the efforts the body made to heal. They did not stop the inflammation; they brought it to resolution.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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How to gain relief from Fibromyalgia

If the princess that Hans Christen Anderson created in The Princess and The Pea, told me she had tossed and turned all night and woke up feeling bruised, black and blue, I would suspect fibromyalgia not a pea under twenty mattresses.

Approximately 15% of the population suffer from the pain of fibromyalgia. Many of these are women who work hard, aim for perfection and sleep poorly. Slowly over a period of weeks and sometimes months, pain creeps up on them.  Their brains become foggy as they are fatigued from poor sleep and living with pain advances. Eventually, they are told they have fibromyalgia.

What causes fibromyalgia?

Like many illnesses, no specific cause has been found for fibromyalgia. It appears to be a series of cascading events which trigger physical and mental challenges. There may be a lingering viral or Candida infection and accompanying nutritional deficiencies. Often the full spectrum of fibromyalgia is brought on by a physical trauma such as a car accident or falling off a bike. The physical trauma is the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.

How to get relief from fibromyalgia

Because the fibromyalgia has several causes and results of different symptoms, a multi-factorial approach brings the most comfort. Such an approach includes dietary changes, exercise, deeper sleep, enhanced mind/body awareness, body therapies and herbal medicine.

Diet

Dietary changes are hard to make. Begin with simple changes. For example, substitute an apple for the sugar fix in the mid-afternoon. Order a salad with chicken instead of hamburger and fries at lunch. Replace flavoured (highly sugared) yoghurt with plain and add fresh fruit.

Exercise

Many with fibromyalgia find it very difficult to exercise, as the pain limits their movement. Like dietary changes, begin slowly and be gentle with limitations. Some recommend short periods of aerobic exercise three times a week. I also recommend yoga, Tai chi and a walk around the block in the evening.

Sleep

There are many ways to improve sleep. The easiest is to take a calcium supplement before bed. Calcium relaxes muscles, helping the body unwind. Melatonin taken with the calcium will calm the mind. Together they enhance sleep.

For those that wake through the night, a bedside herbal remedy for sleep which includes hops (Humulus lupus) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) will ease one back to sleep.

Good sleep hygiene involves taking the TV and clutter out of the bedroom, sleeping in the dark and going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning.

Mindfulness and meditation

Many have found relief by changing their relationship to the pain. Meditation and creative visualisations can be used to develop distance from the pain. This, in turn, decreases the sense of being overwhelmed by the pain and gives room to breathe a little deeper. Deeper breathing results in a calmer mind/body experience.

In the book, The Full Catastrophe of Life: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Jon Kabat-Zinn documents his experience of using meditation to help others manage chronic pain at the Massatcheush Medical Centre. I highly recommend this book.

Body therapies

Treatments that involve laying on hands, such as Cranio-sacral can bring relief from the pain as well as release emotional tensions associated with chronic illness. These types of therapies are often important in the initial stages of finding wellness, as they are excellent tools to relax muscles.

Herbal medicine

In herbal medicine, the protocol often has several stages: gentle cleansing, increase relaxation and help with recovery from long term stress. 

Herbs like yellow dock (Rumex Crispus), red clover (Trifolium pretense) and burdock root (Articum lappa) will help move toxins from the body without stressing the body further. 

Herbs that relieve the chronic gnawing of the pain on the mind are used simultaneously; these include skullcap (Scutellaria latrafolia) and green oat seeds (Avena sativa).

Herbs that relax muscles are essential, cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) and valerian (Valeriana officinalis) are two that are frequently used.

Then there are the adaptogens, which I like to say gives life space. These include Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Adaptogens will build the body’s resistance to stress.

A topical salve of cayenne (Capsicum minimum) is also essential for symptomatic pain relief.

And, finally, patience!

The knots of fibromyalgia take time to tighten, and unravelling them also requires time, but with patience, it can be done.

One morning, I am sure, the princess woke to the sun shining, stretched and felt refresh from a deep nights sleep.

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Now I would like to hear from you. Do have Fibromyalgia? What have you tried to help with their symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.

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Bitter herbs for IBS and other digestive complaints

Bitter herbs for IBS and other digestive complaints

The belief that herbal medicine has to taste bad to be beneficial is not always true. The spirited flavour of peppermint (Mentha piperita) or the sweetness of liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is both tasty and effective medicine. However, in the case of a class of herbs called bitters, it is true.

How do they work?

When the bitter flavour mingles with the taste buds on the tongue, it sets in motion a series of physiological responses that enhance the appetite, improve digestion and aid in the absorption of nutrients from food.

The bitter flavour on the tongue causes the stomach to release gastric juices, stimulates bile flow from the gallbladder and the pancreas to secrete insulin. The bitter taste does this by acting on the part of the nervous system that is responsible for digestion and assimilation of food, the parasympathetic system.

When to use bitters

In old herbal terms, bitters are used when the digestion is sluggish. Or in other words, bitters get things flowing.

Bitter herbs are useful when food sits like a lump in the stomach, causing bloating and constipation. Bitters are useful for those who have no appetite and continue to gain weight. Older folks who have lost their appetite find their hunger with the help of bitter herbs. At the other end of life’s spectrum, when a baby suffers from colic, mild bitters such as catnip (Cataria nepeta) or chamomile (Matricaria recutita) ease griping pain.

For those recovering from a chronic illness that has depleted the body’s resources, bitter herbs improve the absorption of nutrients from food. This, in turn, enhances energy levels and shortens recovery time.

When offering iron-rich herbs to those drained by anaemia, a bitter herb in the formula will help the body absorbed iron.

How much to take

To benefit from all that bitter herbs can do for the digestive system, one does not need to take a significant amount of the herbs. All that is necessary is to taste the bitter flavour. Remember the medicine is in the taste.

To use bitters to improve digestion, whether three months or 90 years old, take a couple of sips of bitter tea 20 minutes before each meal. This primes the digestive system and prepares your body for an incoming meal.

Another way to take advantage of the bitter flavour is to have a salad of bitter greens before each meal. This method is particularly useful for those who suffer from bloating and constipation or have no appetite but continue to gain weight. Romaine lettuce is considered a bitter green, as are dandelion leaves and endive. Try the salad without dressing, or use a little vinegar and olive oil. Don’t mask the bitter flavour with sweet store bought salad dressings.

Additional benefits

Bitter herbs also have a long history of easing depression which accompanies anxiety. This is because the part of the nervous system that primes the digestive tract, the parasympathetic system, also relaxes the mind.

Nature is economical. To digest food well, one needs to be relaxed. The mnemonic for the parasympathetic system is “rest and digest”. Bitters, by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, relax the mind and improve digestion. A two for one deal, all for a little bit of bitter!

How bitter is “bitter”?

The bitter herbs used to relieve depression and anxiety, are very bitter. Herbalists, actually have a scale which measures a herb’s bitter flavour. The two herbs considered the most bitter are gentian (Gentiana lutea) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

Wormwood, although other bitters can be used, is the choice herb to relieve depression with anxiety. It is in my opinion that wormwood is the most unpleasant tasting herb. One of my clients complained bitterly about the taste of his medicine that contained wormwood.

“It tastes so bad; it has to work!”  

Fortunately, wormwood is considered a potent herb, and one only needs a small amount to be effective. Please note, I do not recommend using Wormwood without a herbalist advice, as it has narrow therapeutic range. This means that has the potential of becoming toxic to the body when overused.

A note of caution

Bitters, as useful as they are, are not for everyone.

If you suffer from a peptic ulcer bitters can increase the burning sensation and prolong the healing process. Because bitters are used to relieve constipation, avoid them if the bowels are loose.

In pregnancy, avoid herbs that have a strong, bitter flavour, like wormwood and gentian.

Come and find out more about herbs and their benefits!

Disclaimer

This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Now I would like to hear from you. Do you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome? What have you tried to help your symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.

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Herbal Remedies for Migraine Headaches

Herbal Remedies for Migraine Headaches

Migraines are debilitating. The pain stops life: no engaging with family or friends, no work and no simple pleasures in life. The only refuge once a migraine attacks is a dark, quiet room. Hopefully, sleep brings relief.

There has been a 50% increase in the occurrence of migraines in the last 20 years. This is both alarming and hopeful. Why hopeful? Because if the increase in people suffering with migraines has increased recently, this means with proper care, the number can decrease.

Migraines, like any chronic illness, have a number of triggers. To find relief from migraine headaches, it is essential understand the patterns that trigger the headaches. Once the pattern is understood and the triggers discovered, herbs, dietary and lifestyle changes can be used to reduce the number and the severity of the migraines, quite possibly eliminate them all together.

Understanding the patterns of your migraines

To begin to understand the patterns of the migraine headache ask the following questions:

  • Are the headaches associated with certain foods, stress, lack of sleep, fluorescent lights, alcohol or premenstrual hormonal flux?
  • Do migraines run in the family?
  • Are they associated with weather changes?
  • What is the mood of the person experiencing the headaches?
  • What is their personality?
  • What events lead up to the headache?
  • How is the pain eased?

Try to keep a record of the events surrounding each headache to help you reveal the headaches’ pattern and possible causes.

Making changes to relieve your migraines

Frequently dietary changes are necessary to relieve migraines.

The primary food culprits of migraines are chocolate, aged cheese and red wine, processed meats containing nitrates and foods containing monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many find white sugar will bring on a migraine, even a day or two after it has been consumed.

One person I know wakes with a migraine if she eats a banana before bed.

Other foods associated with migraines are avocadoes, tomatoes, dairy products and canned fish.

Stress, or pushing yourself to accomplish too many things, for a prolonged time (or during a difficult period in your life) contributes to the frequency of migraine headaches.

Often it requires two or more triggers to come together to ignite migraine’s pain. For example: you have been pushing yourself all day to meet a deadline and at the evening you drink some red wine to ease your tension. The two triggers combine produces the migraine.

Exercise to help you avoid migraines

Regular exercise can reduce the numbers and severity of migraines. Current research suggests fluctuating serotonin levels are a contributing factor to migraine pain. Exercise increases and helps the body maintain serotonin levels. Exercise, that is non-competitive and focuses on releasing tension are the most effective, for example gentle yoga or Tai chi.

Herbs to relieve your headaches

If choosing herbs to relieve migraines it is important to keep in mind that there is not a specific herb or group of herbs that will always bring relief. If using herbs holistically, it is important to support the person in achieving balance of body/mind and not just use symptom relief for the migraines. (However, symptom relief is an essential part of a health plan until the body/mind has shifted and balance restored.)

There are a few general guidelines in using herbal medicine to reduce or overcome migraine headaches.

Cleansing

The first step in limiting the number and severity of migraines is gentle cleansing. Herbs like dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinalis) remove toxins from the body via the liver without the headache, nausea and fatigue associated with aggressive cleanses. Dandelion will cool down the heat many experience with migraine heads and ease any nausea or stomach upset.

Stress and tension

If the migraine is associated with excess tension the herbal apothecary has much to offer. Sculcap (Scutellaria laterfolia) quietens an overactive mind. Lobelia (Lobelia inflate) relaxes muscular tension and deepens breathing. Oats (Avena sativa) soothe frayed nerves. Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) settles an anxious heart while cooling down an overheated liver. A combination of these herbs can bring on the relaxation necessary to ward off a migraine. Peppermint (Menthe piperita) eases the sensitive stomach often associated with migraines. 

Hormonal headaches

If the migraines are premenstrual, herbs that help balance the sex hormones are essential. The queen of these herbs is vitex (Vitex angus-castus). Vitex, formerly known as chaste berry, was used to depress the libido of monks in the middle ages. Now it is the most commonly used herb to relieve menstrual irregularities, including PMS with migraines. Adding vitex to the above formula along with dietary changes and regular exercise can decrease the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.

And, a change in focus!

The final key to relieving migraines is an attitude change.

The serenity prayer, is a powerful medicine for those who suffer with migraines. It goes like this:

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Find out more about herbal medicine and how it can help you. Book a complementary introductory session today.

Disclaimer

This article in not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Now I would like to hear from you. Do you suffer from Headaches? What have you tried to help your symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.

Like what you’ve read? Sign up for FREE updates delivered to your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Ottawa Holistic Wellness, 356 MacLaren Street, Ottawa, ON, K2P 0M6, http://www.ottawaholisticwellness.ca. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact